Visiting Prague has been an interesting lesson in art historyMucha with endless galleries opening my eyes to many new artists. One very visible artist in Prague is Alfonse Maria Mucha (1860 – 1939), a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist. Many are familiar with Mucha’s distinct style from his popular commercial illustrations, postcards, and long, impressive career.
There’s a Mucha Museum in Prague’s Old Town on Panská Street. His life’s fine art masterpiece, The Slav Epic, has been on display at the National Gallery’s Veletržní Palace since 2012. I saw the Veletržní display last week and was touched by its fascinating dramatic beauty! The Slav Epic is an incredible artistic accomplishment.
Mucha worked on The Slav Epic for years. It’s a masterful series of twenty paintings depicting and celebrating the history of the Czech and Slavic people. He bestowed the paintings to the city of Prague in 1928. From 1963 until 2012 The Slav Epic series was on display in the chateau in Moravský Krumlov in South Moravia where Mucha was born.
In Moravia Mucha worked as a decorative painter creating theatrical scenery. He later moved to Vienna where he took employment with a Viennese theatrical design company. After a fire destroyed his employer’s business Mucha returned to Moravia to do freelance painting.
Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov hired Mucha to paint murals in his Hrušovany Emmahof Castle. The Count was so impressed with the outcome that he sponsored Mucha’s formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.
“Mucha moved to Paris in 1887 where he continued his formal art studies. While studying he also produced magazine and advertising illustrations.
About Christmas 1894, Mucha visited a print shop and he discovered the need for an advertising poster for a play featuring Sarah Bernhardt – the most famous actress in Paris. He created a lithographed poster for the play.
In January 1895, his poster for Gismonda by French dramatist Victorien Sardou attracted much attention in Paris. Sarah Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of the poster that she began a six-year contract with Mucha.”
Mucha’s works often featured beautiful young women in flowing dresses surrounded by halos of flowers. His pale pastel colors and elegant style received international exposure during the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris.
In addition to his posters, Mucha decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion and collaborated with decorating the Austrian Pavilion. His work was often imitated and he tried to disassociate himself from the Art Nouveau style insisting that “rather than maintaining any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings were entirely a product of himself and Czech art”.
Mucha believed that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message. Frustrated by the fame associated with his commercial work he wanted to concentrate on other artistic projects.
Mucha’s work continues to experience periodic revivals of interest for illustrators and artists. His work saw a strong revival during the 1960s. It’s particularly evident in the psychedelic posters and record album covers of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat – the British artists Michael English, Nigel Waymouth, and Bob Masse.
Mucha Manga Mystery, is currently appearing in Zürich and moves to the Bröhan Museum in Berlin from December 5, 2013 to March 2, 2014. The exhibition explores how Mucha’s “distinct visual language” influenced generations of graphic artists. It looks at the work of contemporary manga artists from Japan who show “strong connections to Mucha’s stylistic vocabulary”.